March 2005

The Town Without Pity

by Aaron on March 31, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Sin City weaves through the tale of hulking sociopath and dead-prostitute-avenger Marv (Mickey Rourke), dedicated cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and all around cool customer and mean motor scooter Dwight (Clive Owens) as they set out to right wrongs, punish the deserving, and spill a goodly amount of blood (their foes and their own), while laboring through the urban wasteland of fictional Basin City. Along the way we’re introduced to a seedy world of strippers, prostitutes, corrupt cops, silent assassins, pedophiles, and downright evil public figures, all so well armed it must bring a tear to Charlton Heston’s craggy eye.

This’ll find an audience with fans of stylized grit and gristle, but serious film-noir fans might find it’s inherent cartoonishness a bit much to take. But if you’re feeling the need for fast cars, faster women, big guns and lot’s of blood, stop in at Sin City and you’ll get your fill.

Sin City
3 & 1/2 Stars

I was able to catch the advance screening of Frank Miller’s Sin City last night.  As a long-time comic geek, this movie had me all kinds of oogala boogala over the prospect seeing Basin City’s most infamous residents live out their their hyperviolent lives on the big screen.  The film geek in me was a hell of a lot more skeptical, however. 

Well, I was duly impressed and a little let down, to tell the truth.

Violent Marv gets his Hulk on.

Director Robert Rodriquez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spy Kids 1 -1000, From Dusk till Dawn) was so intent on faithfully adapting uber-comic writer Frank Miller’s graphic novel series that he made Miller the co-director of the film . While most comic fans would swoon over the prospect of a series creator having equal creative control, I’m not so enamored of the talent that I can blindly think that what works in one medium works in another. But before I trod all over that aspect, let’s get the meat and gristle out of the way.

Sin City weaves through the tale of hulking sociopath and dead-prostitute-avenger Marv (Mickey Rourke), dedicated cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and all around cool customer and mean motor scooter Dwight (Clive Owens) as they set out to right wrongs, punish the deserving, and spill a goodly amount of blood (their foes and their own), while laboring through the urban wasteland of fictional Basin City. Along the way we’re introduced to a seedy world of strippers, prostitutes, corrupt cops, silent assassins, pedophiles, and downright evil public figures, all so well armed it must bring a tear to Charlton Heston’s craggy eye.

Marv is on a bloody quest to avenge the death of Goldie, a prostitute who mistakenly assumed he could protect her. In the comic, he was known as Violent Marv, and he certainly lives up to the name in this adaptation. Dwight starts a gang-war to protect the girls of Old Town from the repercussions of a misguided killing, and Hartigan is trying to protect a young girl from a vengeful serial killer he couldn’t manage to stop 8 years before. Bookending the film are two short vignettes about a charming but efficient contract killer (Josh Hartnett).

Steeped equally in the hard-boiled canon of Mike Hammer and the blood soaked frenzy of the Asian revenge genre, Sin City is one incredibly gory and violent film. Seriously, this movie makes Kill Bill look like The Rainbow Brite Movie. Beheadings, beatings, endless shootings, and some leg-crossing inducing moments permeate through Sin City, drenching it in an ocean of hyper stylized gore. To that end, it’s almost a love song for bloody retribution on a level Sam Peckinpah would have cringed at. Combined with more supple female skin that I’ve seen on screen since the T&A glory days of the mid-80’s, the only thing saving this movie from NC-17 rating is hyper-cartoonish black and white look of the film, which almost perfectly matches Frank Miller’s original works. Visually the film is an absolute winner. Reversed silhouettes, sparse use of color, and beautifully realized effects made this a joy to watch from a purely artistic point of view. Fans of the series will quickly realize that nearly every shot is a direct lift of the comic and perfectly conveys Miller’s gritty style.

Which is actually where my problem with the film lies. Every single line of dialogue is from the comic. It was so faithful to the source that I could have left for 30 minutes and known exactly what was going on. Indeed, one fan behind me was reciting the lines moments before the characters would. As a fan of the series, I impressed by the truly exceptional casting of the roles, as each character was a perfect representation of their creator’s intention, but I can’t help wondering what the point of the whole endeavor was. Much like Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, if Rodriguez didn’t have anything to add to the material why bother making it? I realize that statement constitutes fan-boy heresy of the highest order, but I long ago came to grips with the fact that director is an interpreter, not a re-enacter. For all the changes wrought by Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer, along with every other comic-book film director, I’m glad those artists showed us something different about the characters I’m so familiar with. Every fanboy wants a perfect rendition of his favorite story, but what’s the point of that, and how does it serve to widen the appreciation for the characters? The answer: It doesn’t. This film is a slobbering love fest for it’s source material, and it makes no bones about it. Whether the big name cast and visual hooks will be enough to engage the unfamiliar remains to be seen.

As a stand-alone film, Sin City is not much more than a cartoonish realization of most every guy’s most animal instinct. Talking is never an option, and why wound a guy when you can utterly erase him? And why just kill ‘em when you can literally pound them into the pavement? On that level the film does it’s job exceptionally well. Having to pick and choose the stories from such a larger source, Rodriquez and Miller don’t spend any time explaining their characters’ action beyond a superficial level, nor do they provide any clue on how these characters became the way they are. In Sin City everyone is just one bad day away from a complete homicidal rampage. But I suppose I’m asking too much of a film which would rather spend more effort on cool poses and hard-ass looks in between gunfights.

Some little highlights before I conclude this, lest anyone think that at the very least I didn’t enjoy the film on it’s most visceral level: As I said before, the casting is jaw-droppingly perfect for fans of the series. Non fans can be content to enjoy an immensely entertaining performance by Mickey Rourke, and really…how often can you say that? As I said previously, Rosario Dawson managed to be vulnerable, tough, scary and sexy as hell without fading into her characters inherent shallowness. Nick Stahl was excellent as a bona-fide monster, in that his pre-hideous screen time is equally as menacing and evil as his post. Bencio Del Toro obviously enjoyed the hell out of his role as bad apple Jack Rafferty, and that came across in his wild-eyed and creepy performance. But truly the most kudos have to go to former Hobbit Elijah Wood, who is doing an excellent job in picking roles capable of erasing Frodo Baggins from the mind of the collective consciousness.

I suppose I need to pick a side on this movie. I did enjoy it, but not for the reasons I expected to, just as I was turned off by those things that, as a long time comic fan, I should have been very happy with. This’ll find an audience with fans of stylized grit and gristle, but serious film-noir fans might find it’s inherent cartoonishness a bit much to take. But if you’re feeling the need for fast cars, faster women, big guns and lot’s of blood, stop in at Sin City and you’ll get your fill.

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Here’s a story of a lovely lady…

by Aaron on March 29, 2005

in Uncategorized

Oooooh, Brady Bunch: Season One!  Folks, if you need a plot summary for this you’re at the wrong website.  This set has some fun stuff, but the meat of it is the episodes themselves.  Still goofy, still hammy, but still entertaining as hell. 

The Brady Bunch: Season One
3 Stars

warning: package may cause severe eye
strain and a love of davey jones

I’ll admit it: The Brady Bunch is a tough show to review what with all the backstage gossip, trivia, and endless parodies we’ve all seen and heard. Is the almost nightmarishly flamboyant behavior of the auxiliary characters more noticeable because of Robert Reed’s death from AIDS related illness in 1992? Are the uncomfortable sensations we experienced because of or in spite of the fact that we knew how insano hot Marcia (Maureen McCormick) became in the later seasons? Was Florence Henderson’s doped-to-the-gills portrayal of matriarch Carol Brady due to being doped to the gills or just beautiful method acting? Who knows?

You know you totally want this.

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Hostage

by Aaron on March 14, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

What starts out as a taut suspense film utterly derails itself in the last act with oen of the most ridiculously over-the-top action sequences imaginable.  This should-have-been-interesting film loses itself within the confines of it’s increasingly contrived plot, and not even a solid (and entertaining) performance by Willis can save it.  But it does get bonus points for prompting me to say ‘Wow, I wish Kevin Pollack was in more of this’.

Hostage
2 & 1/2 Stars

I feel bad for Bruce Willis.  He’s an actor that I typically like, but he just keeps picking these projects that I either outright hate (like The Whole Nine Yards and Tears of the Sun), or are just beneath his ability.  Sadly there aren’t enough Die Hards and Unbreakables in his resume, and Hostage probably won’t help that average.

Willis trades his guns for brains in this one, playing Jeff Talley, a former LAPD hostage negotiator who retreated to a small town sheriff’s department after a hostage situation went horribly wrong.  Of course the Hollywood law of averages states that he’ll be forced to play the negotiator once again, and sure enough when two bush-league delinquent teens (Jonothan Tucker and Marshall Allman) & their full-blown psycho buddy (Ben Foster) take a family hostage after botching a carjacking, Talley is returned to the kind of situation that broke his spirit.  Unfortunately for Talley, the teens have taken over the home of Walter Smith (Kevin Pollack), a man with ties to a mysterious organization who will do anything to ensure that their information is retrieved, up to and including Talley’s family.  Talley is forced to barter the lives of innocents against the lives of his own family, while trying to keep the police from invading the home. 

There’s no way around the fact that the premise of Hostage is full-blown ridiculous.  Seriously, that’s really out there in the land of WTF?  Thankfully, a decent script and a high tension atmosphere keep Hostage from descending into silliness until the last act is played out.  French director Florent Emilio Siri (who’s previous projects have included directing the Tom Clancy video game Splinter Cell, which is readily apparent by just the opening credit sequence alone) understands how to maintain a tense situation without going over the top.  Talley’s choices (and the moral cost they impose on him) give you a reason to care about the fate of everyone involved.  Willis does pained like none other, and his trademark stoicism acts as a flimsy facade for the internal anguish Talley is suffering.  I was really impressed with his performance.  I only wish the film lived up to it. 

The last 30 minutes of this film almost completely derail Hostage, as a previously shaky delinquent turns into a one-man killing machine that’s a mix between Luc Besson’s Professional and The Crow.  Yes, it’s really that outlandish.  I’d thought the inability to finish a film strongly was a particularly American ailment, but Hostage proves that shoddy storytelling knows no borders.

My other nitpick with Hostage would be its use of music.  Far from using an understated score like you’d expect in a suspense film, you’re bombarded with the kind of orchestral freak outs normally reserved for comic book films.  I kept looking in the corner of the frames for Batman to pop up.  If you’re willing to drop your sensibility at the ticket booth, Hostage delivers some solid moments of suspense, but try not to be too disappointed when the previously smooth ride hits some very large potholes at the finish.

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